A textbook example of a well-crafted feel-good doc ready-made for airing during PBS pledge drives, "Men at Lunch" is infectiously and unabashedly uplifting as it celebrates the American immigrant experience.

A textbook example of a well-crafted feel-good doc ready-made for airing during PBS pledge drives, “Men at Lunch” is infectiously and unabashedly uplifting as it celebrates the American immigrant experience — especially the Irish-American experience — while focusing on the iconic 1932 photo of 11 steelworkers nonchalantly perched on a girder 850 feet above Manhattan during construction of the GE Building. Director Sean O Cualain industriously assembles evidence indicating that most (if not all)of those workmen — including, apparently, two brothers from the same village — hailed from the Emerald Isle. But this Irish-produced pic devotes even more time to placing those laborers and the products of their labor in a vividly evoked historical context.

Several interviewees (including documentarian Ric Burns) note the extraordinary dangers faced by high-rise steelworkers, and the photographers who immortalized them, at a time when progress seemed to rely on a cruel calculus: One dead worker for every 10 floors completed. Yet interviewees also emphasize that the vast number of ’30s Manhattan construction projects (partly enabled, of course, by availability of cheap labor) did much to jump-start optimism during Depression Era doldrums. Tech values are impressive.

Men at Lunch

Documentary - Ireland

Production

An Irish Film Board presentation in association with TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland of a Sonta Films production. Produced by Eamonn O Cualain. Executive producers, Micheal O Meallaigh, Alan Maher. Directed by Sean O Cualain. Screenplay, Niall Murphy.

Crew

Camera (color, B&W), Reamonn Mac Donncha; editor, Daithi Connaughton; music, Mike McGoldrick; visual effects, Thomas Leveritt. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 6, 2012. Running time: 84 MIN.

Cast

With: Peter Quinn, Jim Rasenberger, Padraig O Flannabhra, Ric Burns, Una Ni Bhroimeil, Joe Woolhead. Narrator: Fionnula Flanagan. (English, Gaelic dialogue)

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